California Legislators Fail to Pass a Bill That Would Have Protected Garment Workers

On Tuesday, the Garment Worker Protection Act died in the state assembly after California lawmakers failed to bring the bill up for a vote in time before this year’s legislative session ended.

SB 1399, which was introduced by State Senator Maria Elena Durazo and passed the state senate earlier this summer, would have set protections for garment workers against wage theft in the industry.

Currently, many garment workers in the state are paid per piece, a system that means an employee could be paid as little as 3¢ for assembly operation of a single garment. The bill aimed to set an hourly minimum wage for workers, as well as expand liability to those fashion retailers who commit wage theft, even if contracted through a third party.

“Workers watched the floor session for 3 long days waiting to see the bill they fought so hard on be voted upon,” wrote the Garment Workers Center on Instagram. “They believed their testimonies of earning as little as 3 cents a face mask, as little as $6/hour wages, amidst life threatening circumstances were enough for #CALeg leaders to understand how urgent this bill was. Over 55 fashion businesses in support hoped for the level playing field SB 1399 ensured. We didn’t get our message through to our elected leaders, however.”

Still, these activists are continuing the plan to fight against labor exploitation. “You don’t stop fighting for justice when you lose a campaign,” the organization wrote, “you just fight harder.”

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We're heartbroken that #SB1399 did not make it out of the CA Assembly last night. It was not called for a vote and the clock ran out. The legislative session has ended. Workers watched the floor session for 3 long days waiting to see the bill they fought so hard on be voted upon. They believed their testimonies of earning as little as 3 cents a face mask, as little as $6/hour wages, amidst life threatening circumstances were enough for #CALeg leaders to understand how urgent this bill was. Over 55 fashion businesses in support hoped for the level playing field SB 1399 ensured. We didn't get our message through to our elected leaders, however. At midnight when it was over, workers told us – WE WILL KEEP FIGHTING! WE WILL BRING OUR BILL BACK NEXT YEAR AND WE WILL WIN. You don't stop fighting for justice when you lose a campaign, you just fight harder. And we will. Adelante! Siempre!

A post shared by Garment Worker Center {GWC} (@garmentworkercenter) on

Durazo, too, said she will continue to prioritize the plight of California garment workers. In a statement for the Los Angeles Times, she said, “As we regroup to plan for the upcoming legislative session, our commitment to garment workers will continue to be a priority, because every day wage theft continues to cheat workers out of their pay and while workers continue to be paid by the piece, they continue to earn on average five dollars an hour.”

SB 1399 was an effort to close loopholes in reforms that were made in 1999. While current laws already hold manufacturers liable for wage theft, the entrance of third-party subcontractors has made the detection of wage theft from garment workers even harder to trace.

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